Bomb kills 25 at Egypt’s Coptic Christian cathedral

Mariam Fam
Associated Press

Cairo — Sunday morning Mass was drawing to a close at the chapel next to St. Mark’s Cathedral, the seat of Egypt’s ancient Coptic Orthodox Church, when Magdy Ramzy said there suddenly was a “shattering explosion like nothing I had ever heard before.”

A bomb ripped through the chapel in the cathedral complex in central Cairo, killing 25 people and wounding another 49, mostly women and children, one of the deadliest attacks on the country’s Christian minority in recent memory.

“It felt like the world has turned upside-down,” said the 59-year-old Ramzy, who was wounded behind the ear by shrapnel. He frantically searched the wrecked chapel, and then outside, for his wife, Sabah Wadie, Only later did he learn that she was killed, and his daughter-in-law and three of his grandchildren were wounded.

Ramzy sobbed uncontrollably at the hospital as he leaned on relatives for support.

“This is one of the acts of terror that we used to watch on television. Now, we saw it with our own eyes,” he told the Associated Press.

The bombing of the Boutrossyia chapel — and another one Friday that killed six police — were grim reminders of Egypt’s struggle to restore security and stability after nearly six years of turmoil.

Egypt has seen a wave of attacks by Islamic militants since 2013, when the military overthrew President Mohammed Morsi, a freely elected leader and a senior Muslim Brotherhood official. Many of his supporters blamed Christians for supporting his ouster, and scores of churches and other Christian-owned properties in southern Egypt were ransacked that year.

Since 2013, authorities have waged a sweeping crackdown, outlawing the Muslim Brotherhood, jailing thousands of mostly Islamist dissidents and killing hundreds in street clashes.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Sunday’s attack.

One of the worst previous attacks against Christians by Islamic militants was a 2011 bombing at a church in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria that killed 21.

The Islamic State group also has targeted Christians in the Sinai Peninsula, where it primarily goes after security forces. Most IS attacks in Egypt have been confined to security personnel and judicial officials.

Friday’s police bombing was claimed by a group that authorities say is linked to the Muslim Brotherhood. That group — called “Hasm,” or “Decisiveness” — distanced itself from Sunday’s attack in a statement that said it does not as a principle kill women, children, the elderly or worshippers. The Brotherhood, in a separate statement, condemned the attack.

The bombings are almost certain to undermine the modest recovery in recent months by the vital tourism sector after years of slumping that followed the 2011 popular uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

They also could bolster the argument used by the government of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi that stability and security are top priorities if Egypt is to prosper economically and avoid sliding into the kind of chaos and violence now seen in countries like Libya, Syria and Yemen.

Sunday’s bombing was condemned by government and religious leaders, and drew calls for unity between Egypt’s Muslim majority and Christians, who account for about 10 percent of the country’s 92 million people.

Witnesses said the blast probably was caused by a bomb planted in the chapel.

Men and women wailed and cried outside.